Bread, Great Books, History, Sandwich
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Sandwich. A global History

sandwich a global historyBee Wilson

Reaktion Books

Edible Series


This little book is part of the series that includes titles that explore the history of foods such as soup, cake, wine, cheese, pie, sauces, etc. you will be able to read it in one go with a nice cup of coffee.


The size of the book speaks for its depth, it doesn’t mean to be an encyclopaedic study but just an entertaining and well documented history of the humble sandwich.

Some of the aspects that the author explores are how this food came to be and why did it root so deep and fast across social classes, cultures and proved its resilience through time and still stands strong as the default and most beloved on the go meal.

Its convenience, reliability, endless possibilities of filling and portability are just some of its best features.

A sandwich however also testifies the shifts and changes of our dietary habits, routines and ways in which we have had to cope with the demands of our modern life. A sandwich says the author necessarily carries the idea of enclosure, an edible treasure that carries a piece of home (should we carry it from home) and provides sweet relief to our momentary alimentary crisis.

earl of sandwichSo much as the author and edible history itself grants John Montagu Earl of Sandwich the full authorship of the food that carries his name, he might be in any case responsible for its popularization and even branding.


In Victorian times, poor sandwich sellers who made boiled ham sandwiches sold up to 436,800 sandwiches a year making just enough profit to survive. But many working class sandwiches in Britain didn’t even contain any meat, only a pair of doorsteps of bread sandwiched with a little far –meat drippings-. Times food scarcity have also affected the food industry, in wartime Britain the British Rail Sandwich has carefully crafted with thin slices of bread that made the filling-bread ratio appear generous when every knew it was virtually impossible to get a good deal in rationing times.

 hitlers secret weapon

The sandwich fuelled both the troops and the homefront alike during and after WWII both in America and Britain. The recovery years and abundance also brought a new set of gadgetry specifically design for the sandwich:

Sandwich box, lunch box, sandwich bag, sandwich press, etc.


It is curious how the sandwich has also been subject to food fashion fads: white, crustless, soft bread was reserved to the upper classes, and crusty loaves with tough crumbs were for the unrefined working class. Now things have reversed and as the upper crust sarnie holds its precious filling in between expensive artisan slices, the cheap version is made with ultra-soft, thin crusted and white, cheap bread that.

Stewart toaster

Should you feel inspired to explore beyond into the world of sandwiches, check the British Sandwich Association’s website here this organization was created in 1990 and also holds annual contests for caterers and restauranteurs.

The customer’s website Love Sarnies also keeps up with all sorts of bread and sanwhich related news, their twitter account is this one.


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